When Ryan McKenna’s parents answered his FaceTime call Monday and saw the smile on his face, they knew good news was coming.
“They said, ‘I haven’t seen you smile like that in a long, long time, so something good must be happening,’” McKenna said.
Once McKenna told them the Orioles were promoting him to the majors for that night’s game against the New York Yankees, they began “hooting and hollering.” They and McKenna’s brother made it to Yankee Stadium to watch his debut, in which he went 0-for-2 with a walk while playing right field.
The Orioles’ No. 25 prospect learned he was being called up during a meeting ahead of the series, when manager Brandon Hyde and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias pulled him aside, congratulated him and told him he was in that night’s lineup.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” McKenna said. “Obviously, a moment you’ve been dreaming about for your whole life.
“I know I’m more than capable of playing at a high level, and at this level, in the big leagues, I know I can have success.”
Monday marked his first regular-season game since the end of the 2019 season, with the canceled minor league season in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic causing him to spend 2020 at the Orioles’ alternate training site outside of a brief stint on the team’s taxi squad that didn’t feature an official promotion.
When he last took the field in a game that counted, McKenna rounded out his first full season at Double-A Bowie. Over a year and a half at that level, he posted a .684 OPS, a steep drop from his 1.023 mark in half a season at High-A. But he’s used the past year-plus to improve; hitting coach Don Long singled him out as a player who impressed in spring training, where he put up a .389 on-base percentage.
McKenna credits the work done at the alternate site. The hitting coaches there were “very educated on the analytical portion of the game,” he said.
“It was really interesting to dive deep into very direct applicable stuff for me and my swing,” he said. “They kind of gave me the breakdown of history on past guys, just to help me and have an idea going forward with my approach. I think just overall, trying to make my swing a little bit more on plane and a little bit more consistent contact will ultimately help me put more balls in play and have those hard-hit balls be able to have base hits.”
He didn’t have any Monday, but he said he was “proud of the way I composed myself” making his debut at Yankee Stadium. He should have more opportunities going forward. His promotion came as a corresponding move for starting outfielder Austin Hays landing on the 10-day injured list with a right hamstring strain, and McKenna is one of four outfielders on the roster and serves as one of only two capable of handling center field.
Now that he’s in the majors, McKenna wants to prove that he should stay.
“That’s been my goal all the way through the minor leagues, make a positive impact on this organization and ultimately win a World Series with the Baltimore Orioles,” he said. “I’ve kept that in mind, and I think that allowed me to stay calm during certain situations where I know that my individual work will lead up to that end goal.
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“At the end of the day, for me, it’s just keep putting together some good at-bats, staying positive, being a good teammate, and doing the little things right, making sure I’m backing up bases and really hustling at all moments and seizing those opportunities when they’re given.”
Alternate site roster announced
The Orioles announced the roster for their alternate site in Bowie, which effectively serves as their Triple-A roster until the minor league season starts in May. Notable absences included outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft who has yet to participate in any of the team’s camps because of heart inflammation but was expected to join the alternate site, and pitchers Mike Baumann and Alexander Wells, who were added to the 40-man roster in the offseason.